Sunday’s game against the Saints in New Orleans will have a special meaning for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
Four games into his rookie season, Carr’s head coach, Dennis Allen, the man partly responsible for his spot on the Raiders’ roster as a second-round pick out of Fresno State and who trusted him to be the starting quarterback, was abruptly fired.
Nearly 10 years later, Carr will square off against that coach. For Carr, the opportunity to play against his old friend and someone who had such a big impact on his career will be both emotional and uplifting.
“DA and I have a great relationship still to this day,” Carr said. “I still talk to him … obviously not this week … but we’ve always kept in contact. We’ve always been close.”
Seeing his former coach will also remind Carr of being a wet-behind-the-ears rookie just happy to be starting his NFL career, only to get hit square in the nose by the business side of the game in a sudden jolt that helped harden him to a part of professional football that always seems to be lurking.
“I’m like, ‘Bro, what is going on?’” Carr remembered thinking when he got the news that Allen had been fired. “This sucks. Is this what it’s like all the time?’ So I got welcomed into the league pretty quick with that.”
Allen’s Raiders coaching career lasted just 38 games, of which 28 were losses. In his defense, there were major salary cap issues at the time, and he and general manager Reggie McKenzie were in their first stints as head coach and general manager. Meanwhile, Mark Davis had just taken over as owner after the death of his father, Al Davis.
“We’re all learning on the job how to do our job,” Allen told NOLA.com. “I think that’s a hard situation to be in. I would say that we probably all made our mistakes in that situation.”
Allen, who was 40 years old when he took over the Raiders, was a highly regarded defensive assistant and had spent the previous season as the defensive coordinator of the Broncos. He was confident upon accepting the job, although in retrospect he wonders if maybe the situation was a little bit too daunting for someone embarking on their first go-around in command.
“I was probably ready to be a head coach,” Allen said. “But I probably wasn’t ready to be the head coach in that situation. I needed help.”
Allen was in his third year with the Raiders when they selected Carr. The plan was for the rookie to learn behind veteran Matt Schaub. But it was obvious in training camp that Schaub was done and that the youngster was the better option. Just like that, Carr was the season-opening starter.
“They were like, ‘Hey, you ready,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s go,’” Carr remembers,
Needless to say, Carr had no idea how quickly he was about to learn how volatile the NFL can be. But that is exactly what happened shortly after the Raiders returned home from a trip to London and a decisive loss to the Dolphins.
Carr was stunned.
An older Carr might have seen it coming. But not 10 years ago.
“Obviously I didn’t know what had gone on before I got here. So all of a sudden, boom it’s four games, boom, he’s gone. I’m like, ‘What the heck. Is this how it’s supposed to go?” Carr said. “Like what is going on?’ And come to find out all the cap problems and …. all the things that he had to try and work through, it’s tough. And then you see him leave.”
Their time together may have been short, but Carr has fond memories and a ton of gratitude.
“I mean, he gave me my chance in this league,” Carr said. “And I’ve told him 100 times and I’ll tell him 100 more times how thankful I am for the chance that he not only drafted me, but to trust me when he asked me if I was ready to start. And obviously, the rest is history.”
■ Who: Raiders at Saints
■ When: 10 a.m. Sunday
■ Where: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans
■ TV: KLAS-8
■ Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
■ Line: Raiders -2; total 49½